Some of the most beautiful images I know are those showing deep space as generated by the Hubble Space Telescope. The spectacular images of vast nebulae always warm my soul, reminding me of the grandeur of our Creator, putting everything into perspective. One of the most exciting developments of recent times was the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, which was derived from data accumulated between September 2003 and January 2004. Although this has been described as covering a small region of space, it is estimated to contain ten thousand galaxies. As the deepest image of the universe ever taken using the visible spectrum, it takes us back in time more than 13 billion years, showing us how the universe looked in the early Stelliferous age.
While the images of deep space in themselves are always heartwarming, their significance is also profoundly felt when one considers the words of the Qur’an about Allah’s creation. Sura 41, ayat 11, fails to provide us with the wooly, open description that the post-enlightenment age has taught us to expect from Scripture. Far from it: the panoramic photograph of the centre of the Orion Nebulae could be used to illustrate this verse. In his Oxford University Press translation of the Qur’an, the non-Muslim Arthur J. Arberry translated it as follows in 1964:
Then He lifted Himself to heaven when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth, "Come willingly, or unwillingly!" They said, "We come willingly."This need not come as a surprise for the Muslim who believes that the Qur’an is the Word of God. Of course the Creator can describe His creation in truthful terms. From His Throne, He is witness to all things, from the formation of stars in towers of smoke 57 trillion miles high to the battle of the tiniest ant in my garden. For the disbeliever who considers the Qur’an to be the fourteen hundred year old work of man, however, it could be nothing but a miracle: it would even have been so had it originated in 1964, twenty-nine years before Hubble was operational. Allah is magnificent.
One of my favorite websites on the Internet is http://hubblesite.org. For me it is a reminder of what we really mean when we say ‘Allahu Akbar’ – God is Great. In these days of conflict, it is wonderful to remind ourselves of these things. If we set our short lives beside the fourteen billion years of Allah’s creation, it helps put everything into perspective. It reminds us of our place. It reminds us of why we are here and our part in this great scheme. It is right that we reflect upon such matters, because it is what Allah asked of those us who were not brought up as Muslims. This is how that same Arabist translated sura 21, ayat 30 in his rendering, The Koran Interpreted:
Have not the unbelievers then beheld that the heavens and the earth were a mass all sewn up, then We unstitched them and of water fashioned every living thing? Will they not believe?For my part, I have beheld and thus I am one who witnesses that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah alone without partner and that Muhammad is his Messenger. Allah is magnificent. If you have access to the Internet, at home or at your local library, I would advise you to visit that website and reflect: it is well worth it. These are the phenomenal signs of your Lord.